Would it be such a cardinal sin to spend more than space allotted in an album review to discuss one song in particular? Yes, in order to develop a readable and somewhat comprehensive critique of an album in its entirety, it would be nothing less than a colossal error for a pseudo writer to elaborate thoroughly on one song alone. So this will be more focused on Laguardia’s debut full-length Welcome to the Middle in its entirety, with a little more time than what is commonplace on “Banner” from their LP. Fair enough? See, common ground and compromises are what Prefix Magazine is all about.
The not-so-aptly named Laguardia finds its home in Philadelphia, but their music is definitely not grounded in one place. Welcome to the Middle is the product of three years as a band, with previous endeavors in Philly locals Ty Cobb, Dandelion and Trip 66 behind them. The album offers a sound not exactly tailored for review, as almost every song moves in its own personal, affecting and bizarre direction.
There’s something unsettling about each track on Welcome, as if around every corner something different lurked, be it organ, dark piano arrangements or lead single-note guitar winding into hysteria with stops along the way in beautiful, heartfelt verse. Let it be said that this is not a negative sort of mystery, but rather an element of pleasant surprise that unfolds after the few first seconds of the album. There is obviously a great deal of musical influences here as the selections range from melancholy, as Billy Corgan or Jeremy Enigk may have wanted it, to chamber pop pieces that could benefit from lush string arrangements but don’t quite need them.
Welcome to the Middle is an opportunity for each of the band’s four members to relay their experiences with love’s little perks. This is evident in the occasional sparse moments where the central instrumentation is piano, air organ and vocals. Such is the case in “Sleepover (116 Overture),” a mention of the otherwise unexplored topic of merely sharing the covers with a loved one.
“Sleepover” works as a closer not only because of its dealing with sleep, love and conclusion all together, but because the Laguardia formula of building up to crescendos is not overblown here, as one might expect. When the drums enter and the innocent la’s in the background begin, the joys of the “Sleepover” are revealed not to be the backyard tent sort, but rather the “pull me under / do what you have to / hold me closer / don’t let me go / take your hand and rip off all my clothes.” By this point, all sounds and vocals have come together in celebration of beautiful untamed promiscuity.
Laguardia’s sophisticated palette blends a fondness for later ’60s stuff and Enigk’s psychedelic compositions on Return of the Frog Queen rather than on the Sunny Day Real Estate catalog. Although the Philly outfit blasts through wavering melody and fuzzed guitar as Sunny Day once did, Laguardia works in Sunday morning vocal lines that oddly complement their chaotic start-stop mania. The production, conveniently handled by Sunny Day/Enigk regular Brad Wood, is nothing short of perfection — with piano up front, a huge drum sound and crisp vocals, the record beams in and out of utter dreariness and sheer bliss.
This bliss, this shimmering sunshine bliss, wraps completely around the room in “Banner,” the album’s strongest number. “Come back home and see your old friends / We all have the best intentions / Banner me,” main gent Ostrander sings at its opening, and the piece goes absolutely skyward from there. The upbeat waltz-like tempo fades in and out to make room for swirling synths and a music box electric piano melody before breaking — out of nowhere — into a completely different animal, as if the CD skipped to the next track accidentally.
Oh, but this is no accident, damn it. This is Welcome to the Middle, and it’s a real beaut.